Category Archives: Education

Harvard Admissions Insights

While at a meeting sponsored by the Harvard Club of Washington, DC, representatives of the admissions office visiting DC from Cambridge made a presentation to alumni and stressed themes often reflected in advising at NVCC. Nothing new for our students looking to transfer to Harvard, or any other competitive 4 year university! Some highlights:

  • Find the school that is the best for you. Harvard is a great place, but you may not find that it is somewhere you would like to be.
  • Do what you want to do and make the most of the the resources and opportunities available to you (as well as restrictions that are placed on you). If you have to work or have a long commute, it won’t be held against you, but sitting on the couch and playing video games for 4 hours a day will be. There is no magic number of AP (or other) classes to take and you shouldn’t play tuba (or do anything) if you don’t have an interest in it.
  • Through recommendation letters and personal statements, they are looking for insight into your character and personality…what makes you tick. When writing your personal statement, express your genuine self and what is important to you. Never write what you think you “should” write.

Have you spent time to find what is academically important to you? What are areas of interest outside the classroom that you have developed during your college time?

Pre-Meds: Time To Start Thinking About Personal Statements

As mentioned in class this week, spring break is over and it is time to start thinking about your medical school personal statement. Please email me if you are interested in updates about our spring meeting to brainstorm your personal statement. We’ll be looking at personal statements that worked for students, the early rough drafts these students wrote as well as talk about what admissions’ committee members are looking for (and what drives them crazy). We don’t have a firm time and location for our first meeting over the coming weeks just yet, please email to be added to the announcement email.

From Friday (2/24) – AMSA Conference 2017

A few things that stand out from the AMSA (American Medical Student Association) Conference in Arlington, VA.
From the companies exhibiting products:
– new to the US, AMBOSS is a German company that has created a great, tightly integrated platform for studying content for the medical shelf (and USMLE) exams. A quick demo showed that this system is truly a one-stop shop for mastering clinical cases without relying upon other resources (such as textbooks or clinical photos).

From the lectures:
Dr. Pritish Tosh (Mayo Clinic, Internal Medicine Residency Program Director)
– Reinforced few points that we make to our pre-medical students, namely, as a medical student your standardized exam scores are important but less so that being excellent and taking advantage of opportunities at your school.
Dr. Roberta Gebhard (Masonic Care Community, Assoc. Medical Director)
– Emphasized taking care of yourself as a prerequisite for outstanding patient care and also reminded students to be kind to all people they encounter (from the janitorial staff to the CEO of the hospital).
Dr. Claudia Krebs (Professor of Teaching, Univ. of British Columbia Medical School)
– Insightful look at how you learn should change and evolve as you progress from college, to medical school and beyond.
Mr. Petros Minasi (Kaplan Test Prep)
– Spoke about your medical school personal statement. 100% agree that all students should work with an engaged, expert advisor who supports your success, but disagree with the Kaplan “one-size-fits-all” philosophy and some of the statement writing suggestions. Certainly worth discussing during our on campus pre-med seminars.

Highlights from selected day 2 fun conversations and talks….coming soon!

AMSA Annual Meeting (Feb 23-26 2017)

Having been asked by many pre-medical students how they might be able to learn more about medical school, meet other pre-med students and learn from current medical students about their schools (and how they got into medical school), I have referred them to a conference held by the national American Medical Student Association. An annual conference is held in Crystal City, VA (in Arlington) and offers students many opportunities to learn by attending lectures, meet other students and gain exposure to clinical aspects of medicine, including the always popular suture tying mini class (don’t worry, you won’t be stitching up people!). Review the conference program, think about what your goals for attending the conference are and plan how to get the most out of your time and money at this exciting meeting. The first day, Thurs is generally less compelling for most students, the lectures and events pick up more on the 2nd day (Friday) and on Saturday. Visit their website at and certainly send me an email, I will be there meeting with other advisors and attending talks.

NIH Community College Day – Oct. 28

The National Institutes of Health are the nation’s premier federally-funded research labs conducting experiments to further human health. Many of the world’s leading discoveries have been made by researchers at this Bethesda, MD campus, including discovery of the virus that causes AIDS and the complete decoding of the human genome. Every fall, the office coordinating education reaches out to DC-area community college students to: introduce them to what the NIH does, offer tips on networking & resume writing and provide exposure to a network or internship & job opportunities at the NIH. Researchers from all over the world travel to work at the NIH and NVCC students have an opportunity to spend the day through a very rich activity. Looking forward to seeing you at this year’s event!

What Do You Notice?

A newly published book, Visual Intelligence, by art historian and lawyer Amy E. Herman sheds light on the power of observation as an invaluable tool in all types of careers. Ms. Herman has created a career based on her love of art and used it to improve the skills of law enforcement and future doctors. After running a course for a decade that has taken police officers and medical students into art galleries of New York City to study paintings to hone observational skills, Ms. Herman now writes about these experiences and suggests (too frequently) that they are applicable to all professions. If you can get past the first person accounts of how she has or hasn’t noticed things in her life through her glamorous world travels and if you can overlook her often incomplete and perfunctory-seeming explanation of the science underlying her work, this book is an excellent tool for all students. Of particular note: high school students exposed to this type of observational study went on to have higher standardized test scores. Do you think of yourself as a good observer? Do you notice details that others may miss? How do you think observational skills may be helpful in improving your academic performance? Or on the job performance?

Please, Linger On Campus!

In the May 17 New York Times, columnist David Brooks identifies the single challenge facing our era as social isolation. Feelings of isolation and solitary study are a particular challenge facing students at all “commuter schools” (both 4-year and community colleges) largely because students often come together for a handful of hours for class each week, then return to their jobs, families and non-academic life. High prices for parking, erratic public transit and demanding employers and family members only work to strengthen the pull away from campus. Students may not fully appreciate it but academic life goes beyond the classroom experience. Whether it is the lunch with a fellow student you don’t know who explains her passion for chemistry, or the casual chat with a professor in office hours (or facilities like Alexandria’s Science Resource Center), you gain much by using the campus to learn beyond the walls of the classroom. In an era of increasingly interchangeable sources of educational material (you can learn facts by diligently using resources on the Internet or even taking online classes), the live, in person experience is what can help you learn and work with others to shape your future. So despite obstacles, I encourage students to spend time studying at school, getting involved with activities, making a new friend in the cafeteria or asking a professor (even one you don’t know) a question. And if I randomly ask you a question in the hall (and I don’t know you), stop and chat because you are learning at a rare institution: an academic environment with many faculty assigned to relatively few students. My college freshman biology class? 300+ students!  What are the obstacles holding you back from being a more active part of the campus community?  What are obstacles you’ve encountered from students, faculty or the physical layout of campus?  Are there suitable locations for you to engage with others?

Digging Deeper Into Success Stories

During the graduation season, students may wistfully look at their classmates’ success (in school, or in the job market) and imagine that they just aren’t as smart or as lucky. Writer, politician, and professor Charles Wheelan’s book “10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” gives background into his struggles which have ultimately led to triumph. A diminutive, short book (118 pages on 5×7 inch pages) based on a commencement speech he gave at his alma mater, Dartmouth, it bears reading as students plan for life after college.

Why Should I Write Outside Class?

Georgetown Univ. computer science professor Cal Newport has written numerous books on how to excel academically – from becoming a straight A student with less effort (he did, at the competitive Ivy League school, Dartmouth), to creating your own successful career (he does, by teaching at Georgetown). One of Prof. Newport’s recommendations bears repeating: “Write outside class”. No matter what your area of study or employment after graduation, you will be well served by being able to write clearly and quickly. Newport suggests spending time writing outside class and this bears repeating and amplification. Whether it be career-focused writing (regular resume revisions, cover letters), blogging about a topic of interest, keeping a journal, or actually writing freelance articles, you will benefit. Writing is difficult, can take years to develop proficiency and is undervalued in school relative to its importance in the workforce. Students may be able to learn how to use a computer in a few weeks, but learning to write well is to develop a craft that cannot occur in weeks or months. What is holding you back in your writing?